Monday, June 25, 2007

Floating waste and fraud

Damn! Internet Explorer keeps shutting down when I try to put the links into this story. I'll see if it will let me publish now and do the links later if I can.

Here's a story that illustrates how the government works all too often, even when all concerned consider the project important and an important national security priority. Remember in October 200, when a small skiff pulled alongside the USS Cole, loaded with explosives, and blew a 40-foot hole in the Navy destroyer, killing 17 sailors? The Pentagon decided to come up with something that would minimize the possibility of any such attacks in the future.

This led to the idea of rubberized floatting barriers with underwater sensors and the like, to be deployed around Navy ships when they were docked around the world. But the project, which has cost more than $100 million so far, was riddled with waste and almost certainly with fraud. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service was given the project and contracted with a little company called Northern NEF in Colorado Springs, which had done small-scale defense work but nothing like this. Northern NEF was told to hire an outfit in Alexandria, VA, P-Con Consulting,which was paid at least $3.6 million essentially to act as a middleman with the actual manufacturer in England -- and turned out to have a personnel connection to NCIS.

Earlier this month the General Services Administration told a House subcommittee that much about the project was "extremely bad and extremely illegal." Northern NEF was apparently chosen because it was small enough that it didn't have to get jobs through competitive bidding, and it kept its invoices under $3 million to avoid triggering a competitive process. Three people may yet be prosecuted.

All this and "Navy officilas advised us that the barriers were prone to leaks, can deflate completely, and that defects caused barrier gates to remain open," according to a GSA auditors report in 2004. The waste might never have come to public attention except for a Washington Post story, which has lots more details. Read it and weep.

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